Lebanese NNA Features Media Unlimited Fact-Checking Workshop

Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) featured Media Unlimited’s workshop on fact-checking with Minister of Information Manal Abdel Samad thanking director Magda Abu-Fadil for providing dynamic, engaged and interactive coaching to 24 journalists and academics.

NNA coverage of fact-checking workshop

Abdel Samad commended Abu-Fadil for combining theory and practice in the intensive three-day training based primarily on the UNESCO handbook/course “Journalism, Fake News and Disinformation” the latter co-authored.

Abu-Fadil coached Lebanese reporters, editors, anchors and media professors on how to detect false information using case studies, exercises and various tools in combating the infodemic.

National News Agency logo

 She conducted the workshop organized by UNESCO and the Lebanese Ministry of Information in March 2021 and hosted expert Nayla Salibi from Monte Carlo Doualiya Radio to launch the training with a review of cyber security and how information disruption can cause great harm due to manipulated data.

The sessions included participants from Lebanon’s Ministry of Information and National News Agency, Saudi 24 TV channel, Kuwait TV, Lebanon’s OTV, Radio Liban, Télé Liban, LBC TV, Al Arabi Al Jadeed, Univérsité Saint Joseph and Univérsité Saint Esprit Kaslik, among others.

MU Director Trains Lebanese Media, Academics on Fact-Checking

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil trained Lebanese journalists and media professors on how to detect false information using case studies and various tools in combating the infodemic.

 

Fact-checking workshop for Lebanese journalists and academics

She introduced the trainees to visual illusions and misleading pictures employed to trick viewers and brought up disinformation about Covid-19 vaccines that spread virally on social media to dissuade people from being vaccinated.

She conducted the three-day workshop, organized by UNESCO and the Lebanese Ministry of Information, in March 2021, and hosted expert Nayla Salibi from Monte Carlo Doualiya Radio to launch the coaching with a review of cyber security and how information disruption can cause great harm when people fall prey to manipulated data.

Monte Carlo Doualiya’s Nayla Salibi explains online risks

 

Abu-Fadil’s training was based primarily on the UNESCO handbook/course she co-authored “Journalism, Fake News and Disinformation.”

The sessions included participants from Lebanon’s Ministry of Information and National News Agency, Saudi 24 TV channel, Kuwait TV, Lebanon’s OTV, Radio Liban, Télé Liban, LBC TV, Al Arabi Al Jadeed, Univérsité Saint Joseph and Univérsité Saint Esprit Kaslik, among others.

The participants were shown a doctored video that former U.S. President Donald Trump had re-tweeted to attack CNN by falsely claiming it was “fake news” and why critical thinking was an essential tool in combatting disinformation.

Donald Trump retweeted a doctored video to attack CNN

 

She pointed to the need for media ethics and directed them to the Ethical Journalism Network’s website that provides valuable resources in multiple languages, including Arabic.

The Ethical Journalism network is an integral part of fact-checking

Abu-Fadil broke down the various types of egregious behavior leading to mis-, dis- and mal-information and provided tips on how to avoid them while showing examples with videos that drove home the point.

She also directed their attention to less prominent cases such as satire and parody that can be mistaken for real news and lead to damaging consequences.

The participants viewed a video of on a program to detect distortions in digital photographs that was adopted by Agence France-Presse as well as a video of AFP’s active fact-checking program.

AFP’s Fact Check program

 

Abu-Fadil presented a case study of pre-digital information verification from her experience as a foreign correspondent and editor with AFP and how the principles of ensuring that information is correct had not changed but that technological tools had made it both a blessing and a curse in trying to avert information disruption.

She provided tips on how to verify user-generated content and what types of questions to ask to ascertain its veracity with several case studies to emphasize the point.

Abu-Fadil further explored the historical background of propaganda and showed a video on the meaning of this news genre.

Adolf Hitler was a master propagandist

 

The participants were briefed on Media and Information Literacy with all its sub-divisions and how journalists should become familiar with it to better understand the implications of what they produce and disseminate.

Abu-Fadil introduced them to the UNESCO and UN Alliance of Civilizations book “Opportunities for Media and Information Literacy in the Middle East and North Africa,” of which she was the key editor and key author.

The need for media and information literacy

 

She told them she was the first person to introduce the concept in Lebanon in 1998-99 through a distance-learning project with the University of Missouri School of Journalism when she headed the journalism program at the Lebanese American University.

She also discussed a paper she presented in 2007 at the UN Literacy Decade conference in Doha, Qatar commissioned by UNESCO and entitled “Media Literacy: A Tool to Combat Stereotypes and Promote Intercultural Understanding.”

TinEye reverse image search tool

Abu-Fadil presented a list of tools to detect wrong information on social media platforms, reverse imaging techniques, geolocation, weather assessment and the safe use of chat apps.

Tom Cruise deep fake video

 

She concluded with examples of “deep fake” videos featuring U.S. actor Tom Cruise and the need to combat online harassment, particularly of women.

Abu-Fadil Leads Intensive Editorial Workshop

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil led an intensive workshop for mid-level staffers at Saudi-based daily Arab News covering a basket of legal, editorial and newsroom management issues that challenge most journalists.

Saudi laws in review

The first segment of the four-day training in September 2020 focused on the complex subject of defamation, libel and slander laws as general concepts and delved into how their countless nuances and permutations require journalists to tread carefully.

The trainees from bureaus in Riyadh, Dubai, Cairo and London were coached on ways to protect themselves from defamation claims (against them and the newspaper). They were given scenarios requiring them to solve editorial and legal problems.

 

What’s defamation in the UAE?

Abu-Fadil reviewed defamation laws in Egypt, France, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, the UAE and the UK and the trainees were advised to learn about legislation in the countries in which they work, and where Arab News has potential reach.

The English-language daily launched a French edition aimed at Francophone readers across the Middle East/North Africa region and beyond, and has Japanese and Pakistani editions.

Commissioning, pitching and editorial judgment

On the second day, the trainees tackled the complexities of commissioning stories, dealing with internal pitches and articles from freelancers or different types of subjects from citizen journalists providing user-generated content.

They also addressed the topic of regular and kill fees, editorial judgment and how to exercise it, and learned from case studies that tested their skills.

Freelance pitches and kill fees

On day three, Abu-Fadil emphasized the need for collaboration across bureaus and platforms and reviewed the latest newsroom trends. The journalists watched a New York Times clip on the incorporation of 360-degree video into newsgathering, storytelling and the ethics of disseminating information in such a format.

 

Remote management failures

The trainees were shown how leaders fail their remote teams, notably with the ongoing need for distributed newsrooms. Managing people and staff development were major topics during that session.

 

The New York Times’ 360-degree video “Displaced”

The journalists also examined how Financial Times editor-in-chief Roula Khalaf is running her 600-strong dispersed newsroom with journalists, editors and others working remotely after the outbreak of the coronavirus. Abu-Fadil also discussed the roles of various editors in different newsrooms.

Exercise on covering tragedy

 

On the final day, the participants went through four exercises (scenarios) requiring them to solve problems on accuracy, a tragic event, media ethics, and integrity. They also delved into individual issues they had raised prior to the training and tried to find workable collective and individual solutions for them.

MU Director Uses Beirut Blasts as Journo Training Backdrop

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil used an apocalyptic series of explosions that killed and injured thousands in Beirut as a vivid case study on how to cover hard news for rookie reporters during a virtual basic journalism masterclass.

Using the Beirut blasts as a case study in hard news coverage

 

The training in early August 2020, grouping six journalists at the Saudi daily Arab News’ Dubai and Saudi Arabia bureaus, involved covering the basics in a digital, multimedia environment and how to operate under both normal and Covid-19 lockdown conditions.

It was a day after the monstrous blasts at the port of Beirut left over 300,000 people homeless, untold businesses ruined and livelihoods lost from damage to countless buildings in a radius extending well beyond ground zero that was heard as far away at the island of Cyprus 200 kilometers west of Lebanon.

Abu-Fadil had been asked to help with the live coverage and updates leading to her landing on the front page in a double byline story in the paper on the day of the masterclass.

She kicked off the mini course by telling her charges journalists aren’t novelists, they should report straightforward facts in a language understood by their audience(s), they must use research and investigative abilities, as well as the right tools and skills to build their stories, they must distinguish facts from dis-, mis- and mal-information, and, they must learn to multitask in a digital multimedia, often online/distance environment.

The training began with a definition of news and what makes a news event important enough to be published, broadcast and disseminated widely.

Abu-Fadil then delved into story structure, how to cultivate one’s niche and provided practical advice about reporting. But equally important, she said, are the elements of grammar and punctuation, which can either make a story stand on solid ground or sink it.

She then focused on the lead, nut graph and quotations, adding that good leads convey the most critical information, which is important for readers in a hurry and reminded them that stories are increasingly being read on small screens.

Writing a good lead

 

The next step is the nut graph (or graf), in which journalists must tell readers not just what happened, but what it means and why they should care – the “so what?” question.

Strong quotes bring a story to life and engage the reader, Abu-Fadil said, adding they should be dispersed through the narrative.

In a component on headlines and captions, Abu-Fadil said journalists should know their audiences and tailor their headlines to appeal to readers they’d like to attract.

A video on the hajj to test trainees’ sense of observation

 

She said captions were often the first elements of a publication to be read and should provide readers basic information needed to understand photographs and their relevance to the news.

She used case studies, videos and other visual elements to discuss news sources, media ethics and interview skills.

Abu-Fadil Leads Virtual Masterclasses in COVID-19 Coverage

Journalists from bureaus of the Saudi-based daily Arab News took active part in a virtual masterclass on how to cover COVID-19 as the pandemic continues to grip the world and demand effective media attention.

 

Covering COVID-19

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil conducted three sessions in May 2020 for the reporters in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Pakistan/India, with one journalist joining Saudi colleagues from London.

The teleconferenced training tackled working from home and how that has morphed into the journalists’ distributed newsroom. The masterclass emphasized the importance of the reporters’ mental and physical safety in lockdown situations, or on their occasional trips out.

 

Dubai-based journalists shown the dangers of viruses spreading on a plane

The class delved into the medical aspect of the coronavirus by first making sure participants understood and conveyed the proper terminology in their coverage, to seeking advice from medical experts, to the role of the World Health Organization and other medical institutions, to learning how to filter through medical journals and studies.

Abu-Fadil also cautioned the journalists against being misled by dis-, mis- and mal-information disseminated through traditional and social media, or regular contacts with other people. She shared several case studies of dubious information and pressed upon her charges the importance of fact-checking, spotting and debunking deliberate or unintentional lies.

 

Tips on debunking disinformation

The reporters were armed with useful resources on where to obtain reliable data about COVID-19 and tips on protecting themselves.

The masterclass further explored the future of offices and activities while social distancing.

Of key importance was focus on the media in the COVID-19 crisis and how to cover the story ethically.

On the business front, Abu-Fadil discussed the impact on the world/regional economy, with a particular nod to the ever-growing gig economy. There were references to the supply chain, food shortages, hunger, poverty, social revolutions, border controls, and refugees.

 

Getting the medical details right

A touchy but important subject is how to cover major religions’ handling of the coronavirus for which Abu-Fadil showed ample examples.

Other sub-topics were art, culture, education and kids with distance learning presenting the biggest challenge to educators.

But entertainment under lockdown has also taken on new meaning and the trainees were shown options to virtual cultural trips to museums and concerts, and, the ability to download free books and obtain free subscriptions for kids’ publications to keep them occupied.

 

Pakistani and Indian journalists asked to change newspapers’ COVID-19 headlines

Last, but not least, Abu-Fadil turned to humor, saying Arab News journalists should infuse their coverage with some jokes to make light of COVID-19 in a bid to overcome the grim reality and used the example of a Lebanese newspaper that dedicates a whole page to funny items on the virus.

Lebanese Media Ethically Unmoored Covering Revolution: MU Director

Lebanese media seem ethically unmoored amid a revolution that began in October 2019 with the spread of misleading, suspicious and unverified news via WhatsApp and other means, Magda Abu-Fadil told Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya’s “Digital” program.

“Unfortunately, traditional and social media platforms are used as weapons to launch verbal wars among parties, individuals and political groups,” said the Media Unlimited director.

She said countless journalists acted unprofessionally and lacked the requisite background in history, geography, economics and politics in which they’re mired and which they don’t fully comprehend.

Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya’s “Digital” program

“They’re spoon-fed by politicians and they’ve been bred on this,” she said, adding that she wouldn’t generalize because there are professional and articulate journalists.

Since the uprising began on October 17, there’s been an abnormal slide downward, and journalists working for TV channels, for example, have been using hashtags to attack assorted and sundry on social media, Abu-Fadil noted.

“That’s unacceptable, it diminishes their credibility,” she said.

Journalists have also been seen arguing heatedly, or practically fighting, with demonstrators in Lebanon live on the air over political and other issues.

“Journalists should not become the news,” cautioned Abu-Fadil. “Journalists cover the news, but some of them have over-inflated egos and consider themselves newsworthy, which is a big mistake because there’s a red line they shouldn’t cross.”

Another issue she touched on was the upsurge in coverage of humanitarian cases with the growing impact of the economic crisis in Lebanon and TV channels competing to show the most misery by barging into people’s homes with their microphones, lights and cameras to highlight the decrepit houses and horrible conditions in which they live.

“They ask questions like ‘how do you feel living in a house that’s crumbling over your head?’ It’s shameful,” she said. “There’s people’s dignity to consider.”

Abu-Fadil said it was the responsibility of the journalists and those who direct news teams to demonstrate more sensitivity and ethics in such reporting, adding that there’s an obvious lack of training.

“Quite often it’s also because there isn’t enough time: Journalists tell me ‘you train us and give us advice, but the boss says we can’t do it, or the editor says there isn’t time,’” she said. “That’s unacceptable, there’s such a thing as media ethics.”

A sad case study she mentioned reflects the reality of the situation.

A veteran journalist wrote an op-ed in a major Lebanese Arabic-language newspaper which he plagiarized in its entirety from an article that appeared earlier in English, also in Lebanon.

When the original author exposed him on Twitter, the journalist apologized, but it was a lame regret.

Magda Abu-Fadil’s reaction to a tweet about the plagiarized article

“It’s clear the person who plagiarized, who stole the article, has no ethics, is lacking in creativity, because he reached a dead end, where he couldn’t write any more,” Abu-Fadil said. “It happened to me years ago when I was a correspondent in Washington and the bureau chief used to steal my articles and delete my byline from stories or scoops and reports to make it appear as if he wrote them.”

Abu-Fadil said journalism education must keep up with the state of the industry and technology and journalists should attend regular workshops to update and upgrade their skills to be fully functional in a digital multimedia ecosystem, notably when faced with crises such as the one Lebanon is experiencing.

Abu-Fadil Draws Line Between Free Speech, Insults in Lebanese Media

A two-month-plus revolution in Lebanon has brought out the worst in people, with countless traditional and social media spreading hate speech, insults and instigation to violence, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told Medi1Radio.

“The very thin line between insults and freedom of expression in the media is when you violate other people’s rights and don’t give them the opportunity to express their views, as often occurs in traditional and social media in Lebanon,” she said. “Unfortunately, we see politicized and biased media.”

Correspondent Khaldoun Zeineddine reported that freedom of expression was enshrined in the preamble to the Lebanese constitution but asked if the protesters against a corrupt system and failed economic policies had contributed to confusing freedom with insults.

“Some protesters have contributed to mixing between freedom of expression and abuses, given their lack of arguments and critical thinking, and the culture of civilized debate, but that doesn’t apply to everyone,” Abu-Fadil added.

The brief interview can be heard below.

 

MU Director Trains Armenian Students on Migration & Media Issues

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil trained Armenian students on how media should cover the issues of migration, refugees and human trafficking during a summer school grouping local and international academics and experts in Aghveran.

The three-day event in July 2019 on migration and development was funded by the European Union and organized by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development, with input from MIBMA Support to Migration and Border Management in Armenia.

Armenian students attend summer school on migration and development

Abu-Fadil and other specialists briefed 23 graduate and undergraduate students from Yerevan State University, Russian-Armenian University, Brusov University of Foreign Languages and other institutions on a host of topics ranging from security to globalization to migration policies to media matters.

The program acquainted the students with Armenia’s migration policies, which have been in place for over a decade, and the integration of asylum seekers, notably thousands of Syrian refugees of Armenian origin settling in the country.

On the first day Abu-Fadil contributed the media perspective for journalism students, or those who expect to deal with media, with an initial session on the need for journalists to understand the terminology of migration, refugees and human trafficking.

Magda Abu-Fadil tells students they need to understand the terminology of migration, refugees and human trafficking

She demonstrated how they should become acquainted with various international organizations and NGOs that handle these issues and learn about laws, treaties, resolutions and conventions that have been adopted over the years to better frame their reports.

Armenians have emigrated to Russia for decades in search of greener pastures. They’ve also gone further afield to the United States, Canada, Europe and several Arab countries.

Lebanon, for example, boasts a sizeable Armenian community with Lebanese citizens of Armenian descent in all walks of life and actively involved in political affairs.

Perhaps the largest waves of the Armenian diaspora were triggered by the Muslim Ottoman genocide of Christian Armenians in the early 20th Century. It involved deporting and mass killing Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire by the “Young Turk” government during World War I. Modern Turkey has never acknowledged it as a genocide.

Armenia – Google Maps

Armenia has also experienced waves of displacement with Armenians moving internally as a result of earthquakes, to which the country is prone, as well as from the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in today’s southwestern Azerbaijan, where a majority of ethnic Armenians live and are backed by the government in Yerevan, and where wars have been fought with the Republic of Azerbaijan, thereby forcing the residents to seek refuge elsewhere.

On the second day, Abu-Fadil delved into the details of how media should cover migrants, refugees and victims of human trafficking.

Media’s familiarization with migration and refugee-related organizations

That ranged from researching the story, dealing with data, and statistics from various sources, to interviewing techniques for questioning officials, migrants, refugees and human trafficking survivors, host communities, to examining case studies of good and bad reporting, and the use of social media in getting and telling the story.

On the last day, she turned to media ethics and how journalists should humanize the story by translating numbers and statistics into individuals with fears, hopes, failures, successes and resilience against tremendous odds.

The key, she said, was changing the narrative from hate speech and stereotyping. She provided tips on how to shoot pictures and videos in an ethical fashion given the impact of visual imagery across multiple digital platforms.

MU director on changing the narrative from hate speech and stereotyping

There was also the key element of verification, notably in the age of disinformation and alternative facts where migrants are often vilified based on fabricated accounts.

There was an exercise at the end of each session to test the students’ grasp of the media-related topics and all her presentations had embedded videos to better explain what the ideas and examples meant.

“Journalism in the Internet Age”: MU Director to NDU Students

“We need journalists to tell the story and tell it well,” Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told media graduate students at Lebanon’s Notre Dame University during a Skype discussion on journalism and its transformation.

Abu-Fadil Skypes with NDU students

The virtual seminar “Journalism in the Internet Age: Trends, Tools and Technologies” November 15, 2017 began with a presentation reviewing Abu-Fadil’s evolution from an analog to a digital journalist in a career spanning over four decades.

“Whether you’re using analog or digital tools, what matters is the content,” she told students of Rouba El Helou-Sensenig’s JOU 640 class.

 

MU director explains her start as an analog, manual journalist

The discussion also focused on adapting journalism skills to incorporate technological changes like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR).

 

Demonstrating the use of a smartphone for mobile journalism

Abu-Fadil explained how newsrooms must reinvent themselves just to keep up.

She said what she could do with a large bag of equipment – cameras, lenses, filters, batteries, rolls of film, recorders, notebooks and more – she can now accomplish with a small smartphone, some pocket-size accessories, and apps.

Lebanese Journalists Need Training on Migrant/Refugee Coverage: Abu-Fadil

Lebanese journalists are mostly ill equipped to cover the migrant and refugee story, with reporting ranging from hate speech to a sympathetic approach, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told an Austrian newspaper.

Media coverage of migrants and refugees in Lebanon is a mixed bag: it includes xenophobia and fear mongering as well as more humanitarian reporting,” she said. “But a major problem is that journalists do this along with coverage of other news and have to juggle many priorities with increasingly shrinking resources, so it’s a challenge.”

Abu-Fadil was interviewed by the Salzburger Nachrichten on her contribution to two international reports on how media have covered the migrant and refugee crisis, notably in the Euro Mediterranean region.

“Additionally, nobody is trained to cover migrant and refugee issues,” she said. “There’s a need for such training and for understanding the consequences of the stress placed on journalists who cover this crisis.”

This is a [PDF] of the article, including views from various experts.